Sam stroked his chin, elbow on his car's window as his eyes jumped from Lily to the read repeatedly. She browsing through her diary.
"What are you digging in there? The party is over."
Lily nodded. "Just some things I have planned for the cafe and a work schedule. I think I need a maid for cleaning the cafe every weekend but it's going to be costly so that will have to wait."
Sam couldn't help but burrow his eyebrows. There was something there, in her, that was subtly morphing into something new. He had a hard time pinpointing it.
"I feel like you're changing."
Lily finally looked up. "What?"
"I can't say how. There's a tiny spark in you that wasn't there before."
Lily shifted back and crossed her arms, eyebrows raised. "Have I offended you in any way?"
Sam shook his head thoughtfully.
"Am I rude?"
Another shake of the head.
"Do I say something that's wrong?"
Sam shifted in his seat, craning his body half towards her without taking his eyes off the road. "No, I'm not saying it's a bad change and you're not making me uncomfortable in any way, shape or form. The change is towards other people."
Lily suppressed her smile. "Is their business your business?"
Sam flopped his mouth like a fish insinuating his lack of argument. He huffed and stuck his tongue out which pulled a laugh out of her.
"Don't worry about other people, Sam. No matter who you are or where you are, you can't please everyone. There's always going to be a difference of opinion and that often breeds resentment."
"Truer words have never been spoken." Sam stopped the car in front of the small house a few blocks away from the cafe and gestured outside. "Your ride is up."
Lily gathered her handbag and slid out of the seat after exchanging farewell. Waving, Sam left. Lily was halfway through to the door when it crashed open and a drunk man staggered down the steps. Tinkering, a bottle dropped from his hands, rolled and stopped at her feet.
"Aye, you fucking whores have another collection in your house?" His malicious face sneered at Lily as he swayed up to her. "Tell me b-bitch–"
"Don't you dare, Edmund!" Kandra bolted down the stairs and stood between them. "Leave."
Cindy appeared beside her mom with arms crossed. "I don't know why this sack of filth keeps showing up. Oh, maybe because the life you left for us is garbage."
The man snarled and picked up the bottle. "You bastard child, go find your whore sperm donor!"
Cindy gritted her teeth. "He's standing right in front of me."
Kandra caught him before he could drop and dragged him out her porch. "Stop being so disgusting towards your daughter, Edmund. Please leave and don't come back unless you want to apologise."
Edmund threw curse after curse in his drunken stupor as Kandra disposed of him. In a daze, Lily kept her eyes on him and let Cindy pull her inside the house. Kandra soon joined them in the small living area in front of the open kitchen after locking the door.
"Didn't you hear? My sperm donor!" Cindy spat, her eyes shooting daggers at her mom. "The fucker who fucked our life."
Kandra couldn't complete her sentence because Cindy exploded. "Don't you fucking dare, mom. After all we been through I thought you will grow a spine but no! My fucking mom doesn't want to stop the bitch from humiliating her ass!"
Crestfallen, Kandra glared at her daughter with glossed eyes and ran to her room. Lily was torn. Her eyes flickered to a fuming Cindy.
"I thought your father–"
"Right. I thought he's–"
"He is dead!" Cindy kicked a stool and stomped up to her own room. "The trash you saw is just his rotten body."
The anger in her face couldn't curtain the pain in her eyes. It would have been better if Lily had checked up on either of them however it felt like she was intruding. Stalling for a few more minutes didn't ease the knot in her stomach. With a heavy heart, Lily went to her room and kept tossing in her bed until sleep claimed her.
The morning was no different. Her guts were clenched in the deserted house. Neither Kandra nor Cindy came out of their rooms. She left them breakfast, grabbed her bag and left.
Wind blew the escaped strads from her bun and made her shiver. Her white sweater and faded jeans complimented her tanned skin.
Surprisingly, Lily found a small basket outside her cafe. White poppies. Coincidences do happen, don't they? Like the candles resting on top of the flowers. Rolling her eyes, Lily picked up the basket and entered. She dropped her bag on a table and held the basket over the trash can in the corner.
Hesitation stopped her. Brown fierce eyes glaring at the flowers like she wanted to murder them. How could she, though? They were innocent. Already dead.
Sighing, she rubbed her face and discarded the small basket beside her handbag. Rummaging through her things, her mind briefly wondered if the one who delivered it had rubbed them against himself individually because she could pick up his scent.
Or my nose is working too much.
"A little early to invite someone for a chat at 8 in the morning, isn't it?"
Lily pulled out her diary and put a smile on her face before she turned. Madaline stood in her high heels and maroon jumpsuit at the door.
"If time doesn't wait for a man, a man shouldn't wait for time. Welcome to my space."
Madeline surveyed the place before she took a seat at a table in the center. "Nice place. Cozy colors. Congratulations."
Lily nodded and said, "I have to make you wait for a while. Hope you don't mind."
Madaline clasped her hands on top of the table and shrugged. "It's alright. Why would I mind?"
Disappearing into the kitchen, Lily was impressed at the way Sabrina has organized it. She easily found the tools and ingredients to make two cups of coffee and a slice of cake in the refrigerator.
"Here you go." Lily placed the tray on the table and sat on the opposite chair. "Figured we might as well get comfy. I have a feeling it's not going to be short."
Madeline pursed her lips and dragged her cup near. "When are you opening your cafe?"
Lily placed her chin on top of fist, elbow on the table. "We're already inside."
Madeline looked up, a shadow flickering in her eyes. Whatever it was, it was damn important to make her reconsider. Lily tilted her head in a 'go-on' manner.
"Ezra told me you refused to patch up."
Lily dropped her gaze to her cup and glided her finger around the rim. "So this is why you're here."
Madaline dragged her chair closer. "It's not about him, it's about me."
Madeline folded her hands, her shoulders stiff. "Lily... um... I know it sounds stupid–"
"Because it is stupid?" Lily interrupted.
Madaline paused then bit her lip and nodded. "Perhaps it is stupid and I know I'm going to regret this later but I want to give this one last shot."
The colors of conflict, hesitation and embarrassment were bright on her face. For a moment, Lily was caught off guard but she didn't let it show. She sipped from her coffee silently, watching Madaline fidget in her seat. Her heart throbbed seeing her former reflection in the girl.
Lily put her cup down. "What I heard about Madeline so far was that she's gorgeous, which you are. She's strong and confident. Do you know? Confidence comes from lack of fear or the shortage of it. Right now, I don't see that confidence."
Madaline stole her guilty gaze away. "You calling me weak?"
Lily leaned back. "Then come back when the real Madaline is ready to speak."
Something flashed in those hesitant eyes, sparking up a small flame. "I am the real Madaline."
"What do you want?"
Madeline sighed deeply and sat straight. A false pretense but 'fake it til you make it' works.
A string in her chest strained. "He's not mine." Lily reminded her quickly.
"I know but," Madaline slumped. "The way he talks about you is very... strange. If you asked for something he will never refuse."
Lily gripped her cup tightly. "What exactly is your point?"
"Lily if you have an ounce of intention of going back to him then I promise you I'll get out of the way," her hand wrapped around Lily's. "But if there's not, he's all I have."
"I'm not going to interfere in his life." There was a sharp edge to Lily's tone. "I'm sure he will take you back if you ask him nicely."
Madeline craned her head to catch her bouncing gaze. "Please? You don't have to ask him... Just hint about it?"
Lily drummed her thumbs against the cup and pursed her lips.
"Do you love him?"
Madeline paused then blinked. "Yes."
Lily let go of her cup and placed her free hand on top of Madeline's hand. "I don't expect it but please be honest with me. There's no one here and I'm not in the habit of exploiting secrets."
The sudden softness of her voice and the sincerity in her eyes blossomed a warm feeling in Madeline's chest. She never hated the girl, she realized. It was the threat of her presence which was gone. Almost.
She sucked in a shaky breath and nodded.
"Are you in love with him?"
Lily waited. A long, painfully strained moment passed with pregnant silence from Madeline.
"Don't be honest with me." Lily gave her hand a firm squeeze. "Be honest with yourself. I don't think you're ever going to have this conversation with anyone. I can't help you get Ezra but I'll help you get to yourself. Tell me or rather tell yourself, you love Ezra but are you in love with him?"
The breaths rushing inside her throat itched Madeline's heart. The color slowly drained from her face.
"He's... I... Lily," Madeline palmed her face to rub her guilty mask away. "I need him."
Madeline retrieved her hands and hugged herself. If Lily hadn't been familiar with it, she might have missed the vulnerability Madeline hid behind her eyes.
"I just need him."
Lily stared long and hard, the warmth of the hot coffee losing it's effect on her sweaty palms. "Why would the most admired woman in the pack need anyone if she's not in love with him?"
Madeline shook her head in defeat and stood up from her chair to pace back and forth, rubbing her forearms. "You won't understand. It's nothing without him."
"Which people? Your friends or your family?"
Madeline stopped. "I don't have a family. Don't you know? My mom was an Omega. She was bullied her entire life for it and even got betrayed because of it."
Lily quietly rose to her feet. The clouds taking over in Madeline's eyes ware unsettling.
"When I was born, the man who had promised to become her mate left. People never let her escape her past so she left her present and I'm her future."
Lily swallowed the thorny lump in her throat and clutched Madeline's forearms. "Hey... It's over–"
"It's not." Madeline urged, eyes shining. "They did the same to me. It was Ezra who put an end to the bullying. I tried all that I could to reach the top but that brand of being an Omega never left me and I'm sure it's going to follow my children too."
Lily shook her shoulders to snap her back into her senses. "Madeline! Stop it. Who we are doesn't matter, what we become is more important."
"It's not, for people."
"You shouldn't care." Lily gripped her face to look directly into her eyes. "You spent all your life to please people that don't matter. You don't love them. They don't care about you and you wasted your better days for them."
Madeline panted heavily, the words sinking in.
"It's your life." Lily reminded her with conviction. "The dreams you have should be for you, not them. Who cares if they don't accept you? Make your own world. Your happiness comes before their acceptance. Don't you ever think you're lacking just because that's what people think. You're unique, that's why they hate you and they want you to hate yourself too. Don't let them win."
Madeline lost her breath. Her eyes were dry yet Lily saw the tears. The tears no one could see. Who knew reaching the top was not a dream, it was an obligation. Her heart ached for the woman who had once made her feel the same ache.
Yet she couldn't blame her. The one who betrayed her was someone else. She was just bearer of the bad news, at a bar time with a very bad planning.
Madeline's hands fisted by her side and lips twitched stressfully. She didn't let them tremble.
"Thanks." She barely whispered, grabbed her clutch and left.
Lily picked up the cold coffee cups and untouched cake when Sabrina came in. Kandra joined them later in a somber mood. Lily helped her bake buns, donuts, cupcakes, pies and creame rolls. A few stragglers stopped by that day and complimented their service before ordering takeouts.
Sam popped in with Dave later in the day along with a few of their friends. They had a blast at the cafe whilst she was lost in her own little world which was now nothing but ruins.
Still, it was her world. Besides she had a fascination for ruins.
"Hey, I'm headed to the gym. Wanna join?" Dave asked from over the showcase.
Lily looked behind at the other customers and made a face. "I have time. See you there."
"Come on, Lil. Sabrina will handle it. Your final test is tomorrow. Don't you wanna win?"
Lily opened her mouth then closed it. A dark thought crossed her mind. She got judged for not being strong enough. What changed? She was doing well in the sessions and the teacher was his best friend after all. Her tiny hands curled around the pen in her hand.
No. She thought to herself. I don't want to win.